Most Canadians are not able to lobby their provincial governments online. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the need for new ways of doing things. The federal government, one province, and one territory already allow for e-petitions, showing that it is feasible. Having extensive experience with petitions, including a successful bid to amend the Criminal Code of Canada, we break down the existing framework, and discuss the pros of digitizing this process.

Petitions have been a long standing method of creating (or attempting to create) change. The first documented petitions in history were created by slaves in ancient Egypt, requesting better working conditions. Today, they are created for any number of causes, but are largely used to lobby government to create, change, or revoke legislation.

We regularly see petitions shared on social media for any number of causes. With the advent of the digital age, companies such as change dot org have skyrocketed in popularity, allowing for petitions to be created quickly and shared easily.

With the ease of use, many individuals do not realize that these sites do not authenticate the signatory or their location. Canadian petitions have strict guidelines, including authentication, location, and means of submission. As such, regardless of how many signatures a petition were to obtain, and the veracity of the petition itself, it is inadmissible to every level of government in Canada.

As a society, we’re committed to having our voices heard. Being heard is in integral part of democracy. In order to follow the strict guidelines in place for petitions, it is essential to understand the requirements.

In Canada we have three distinct levels of government; municipal, provincial, and federal. Every level of government has strict requirements as to what they will accept, and even then, these vary from municipality to municipality, and from province to province.

At the federal level, the guidelines are laid out in a relatively clear and concise way on the ‘Our Commons’ website. Both paper and digital petitions are accepted. The guidelines require that the petition is directed to the appropriate addressee, follows a standard text, the topic must be something that is actually under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and a Member of Parliament must agree to present the petition. There’s finer points as well, including page dimensions for paper petitions. This is a generalized breakdown; anyone attempting a petition should consult the guide.

At the provincial level, petitions follow a similar framework, however must be hard copy in most jurisdictions (at this time, only the Northwest Territories and the province of Quebec accept digital petitions, submitted via their respective platforms). Guidelines can typically be found on each provinces’ website.

Municipalities have their own guidelines as to what is accepted, but will typically be very similar to the provincial guidelines, as this level of government is mandated under their province’s Municipal Government Act.

As our society deals with slipping voter turnouts, and a general apathy with the political process, it is more important than ever to give citizens a voice. Petitions allow for direct communication from the electorate to those who hold office, relaying the concerns from the general population. The popularity of online petitions show that Canadians are engaged, with 1,400 e-petitions submitted federally since 2015. There is no reason that this success cannot be duplicated at the provincial level.

The downfall of paper petitions lie with the fact that the creator of the petition usually is not able to traverse their province, raising awareness to their cause, and obtaining signatures. As we move into the digital age, we have seen information and causes disseminated further than previously allowed.

In 2022, let’s endeavor to ensure that we allow everyone to have a say on legislation. We have the existing frameworks laid out federally, and have seen this work at the provincial level already. Let’s move into the 21st century.

Devon Hargreaves and Jennifer Takahashi drafted and promoted e-Petition 1833, leading to Bill C-4, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy). Devon resides in Lethbridge, AB, and ran as the Liberal Party of Canada candidate in the 2021 election and continues to advocate for his community. While initially residing in Lethbridge, Jennifer has since transitioned to Victoria, BC, where she is currently building a craft food empire.